FORT WORTH, Texas -- TCU has accepted a bid for full membership to become the 17th member of the Big East Conference, effective July 1, 2012.
"Having BCS automatic-qualifying status was a priority for our football program and a great reward for the success we've had the last decade," TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said in a statement.
The conference change allows TCU to play in an automatic BCS-qualifying league beginning in the 2012-13 school year.
"Access got easier, not the road," said Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson, whose third-ranked Frogs (12-0) wrapped up their second consecutive undefeated regular season and Mountain West title with a 66-17 win at New Mexico on Saturday.
The Mountain West does not have an automatic bid to the BCS and is going through some changes of its own. BYU and Utah are leaving the conference just as Boise State enters.
Del Conte said losing BYU and Utah was a "significant blow" to the Mountain West.
"It was not the same league that we joined," he said. "It's not the same home that we bought, it's not same home we were invited to, and things changed, the landscape changed."
Boise State president Bob Kustra called TCU's decision disappointing "but not entirely surprising given the stakes of automatic qualification in the BCS bowl system and relative lack of access for non-AQ conferences." He said the Mountain West was still a good fit for his school.
BCS officials have said a non-automatic qualifying conference could earn an automatic bid for the 2012 and '13 seasons.
And if the Big East's BCS bid comes under scrutiny when the next TV contract ends after the 2013 season, TCU's 2010 season will also count toward the Big East's resume.
"It's too soon to speculate about what the BCS thresholds will be for the 2015 and beyond, but it seems likely that TCU's move will enhance the Big East's position," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said in an e-mail.
TCU, which has an enrollment of 9,142, will become the Big East's ninth football team. The conference has extended an invitation to Villanova to become its 10th football member.
"We are excited about the addition of TCU, as they bring a great deal of value to the Big East," Villanova AD Vince Nicastro said Monday. "However, our timeframe has not changed. We are continuing to move forward with our comprehensive evaluation of FBS level football, and are still targeting a decision by the spring of 2011."
The Big East has schools in nine of the nation's 35 largest media markets and will be adding Dallas/Fort Worth, the fifth largest.
"Located in one of the top five media markets in the country, TCU also enables the Big East to extend its media footprint, which already encompasses more than a quarter of the country," league commissioner John Marinatto said.
TCU is 12-0 and ranked No. 3 in the BCS. The Frogs are at the very least headed to the Rose Bowl. But if Auburn or Oregon slips up this weekend, TCU is poised to play for a national title.
The only current Big East team ranked in the AP poll is No. 23 West Virginia (8-3, 4-2 Big East), which is 24th in the BCS standings. Connecticut (7-4, 4-2) could get the league's automatic BCS spot.
The Frogs might not have been headed to a BCS game without Boise State's loss Friday night in overtime at Nevada. Had the Broncos remained undefeated, there was a distinct possibility that the Broncos could have passed TCU in the BCS standings and been the only non-automatic qualifier school to get into one of the top-level bowls.
"This is a great move," Patterson said. "I'll say this, we don't seem to get bored around this place. ... The one last mark people have held against in recruiting is that we were not an automatic qualifier. Now that's been erased."
TCU was a BCS buster for the first time last season, then lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Frogs have won 25 consecutive regular-season games, and 38 of 41 overall. The only losses in that span were in the Fiesta Bowl, and games at Oklahoma and Utah.
"If you don't dream, you're living in a memory," Del Conte said. "Who wants to live in a memory? Every single time we have an opportunity to think about where we're going to go, that's the leadership of our chancellor that says, 'Guess what? We dare to be great academically and athletically.' This decision today is great for TCU. We're heading in an arena that we've always dreamed about. The BCS does not define TCU, TCU defines the BCS. The academic institutions that we're going to be associated with is unbelievable. This is a great time to be a Frog."
According to a MWC spokesperson, TCU will not have to pay an exit fee for leaving the league under conference bylaws. The same applied to Utah (Pac-12) and BYU (independent in football and WCC in all other sports) when both notified the MWC of their intentions to leave for the 2012 season. The only thing TCU had to do was notify the league by Sept. 1 to leave for the 2011-12 season. Since TCU didn't, the Horned Frogs will leave on July 1, 2012, the same time Nevada and Fresno State enter the Mountain West from the WAC, for the 2012-13 season.
Meanwhile, Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon, a TCU alumnus, confirmed that he did initiate contact between his alma mater and the Big East. Dixon was with Del Conte for a homecoming weekend against Baylor Sept. 18. Dixon and Del Conte spoke about how the Big East was going to need another football member. Dixon tested TCU's interest and then let Marinatto know of the Horned Frogs' desire to look at membership. Once TCU's football team rose in the BCS standings and the Big East struggled, the matter became a need for both parties.
The conference change is for all sports, meaning TCU enters a strong basketball league and should get exposure in more Eastern sports markets. The league as a whole will now have 17 teams.
The Big East has an 18-game regular-season basketball schedule that calls for three repeat games under television contracts with ESPN and CBS through 2012-13. The contract is based on a 16-team membership. CBS and ESPN each get a choice of one of those repeat games.
A source told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that in a 17-team league, each program would play every other team (16 games) and then play two repeat games (instead of the current three). That means a lower-level repeat game for a favorite like Pittsburgh wouldn't continue. CBS and ESPN requested Pitt and Villanova play twice and each received a game. The Big East then kept the rivalry of Pitt-West Virginia for another repeat game. Pitt's third repeat game is against South Florida. Under a 17-team, 18-game schedule, this game would not continue.
The Big East will be the fourth conference for TCU since the Southwest Conference broke apart after the 1995 season and the Frogs weren't among the Texas schools that became part of the Big 12.
TCU was in the WAC from 1996 to 2000 before going to Conference USA for four seasons and then joining the Mountain West in 2005.
"Today's intercollegiate athletics environment is very fluid," said Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson in a statement.
"We appreciate the many contributions TCU has made to the growth and development of the Mountain West over the past six years," he added. "We look forward to shaping the future of the Conference in the coming months."
Thompson said there were "conversations already under way with potential future members."
Big East members praised TCU's move.
"Coach Patterson's done a great job there and has brought an awful lot of exposure to themselves just because of the success that they've had," South Florida coach Skip Holtz said. "Probably over the last five years, [they] have been one of the leaders in this whole BCS busters thing, and they've done it on a consistent basis. They've proven that they can compete at that level, that they're deserving of having the opportunity to be in a BCS conference."
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich believes TCU is "a great addition" to the Big East, and has no problem with the league expanding so far west.
"Hey, the Big 12's got 10, the Big 10's got 12," Jurich said. "Why should we be any different?"
Richard Durrett is a reporter and columnist for ESPNDallas.com. Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.